You want to profit from investing in small, quickly growing companies? We've got them for you. Check out our Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter, and you'll see that our recommendations are up more than 20% on average versus just 5% for the S&P 500. In just a few months, Blackboard (NASDAQ:BBBB) is up some 44%, while Drew Industries (NYSE:DW) is up 30% or so.

But small, for-profit companies aren't the only investments offering possible blowout results. Small charities can pack a real punch, too. We've learned that through our many years of running Foolanthropy charity drives. Since 1997, we and our readers have contributed more than $2 million to some very impressive organizations, some of which could be called the small caps of the philanthropic world. The Red Cross may be like General Electric (NYSE:GE) in its size and scope, and Unicef might be like ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) in its international reach. But lower-profile organizations such as KaBOOM! and Scenic America might be likened to smaller, more dynamic companies, such as Chinese Internet company NetEase (NASDAQ:NTES) or online jewelry retailer Blue Nile (NASDAQ:NILE). Like other small firms, they have a lot of ground to cover in getting more people aware of them and supporting them. But once they do, watch out!

To appreciate the beauty of contributing to (i.e, investing in) small charities, consider Lifewater, which we have supported for several years. As I wrote back in 2000, it had "been around for some 20 years, but it remains a small (yet incredibly effective) organization. In 1999, it took in less than $1 million. Lifewater has more projects than it's currently able to fund, so if we can raise $100,000, it'll be able to pay for five drill-training projects, each of which includes a drill rig, parts, and supplies, as well as travel expenses for a few volunteers. Each drill can produce enough wells to supply water to more than 25,000 people."

Well, in our 2000 drive, we raised $181,000 for Lifewater! That's nearly 20% of its entire 1999 intake. We'd hoped to be able to provide access to 125,000 to clean, safe water, but we ended up able to help more than 200,000 people.

Another way to think about size when you allocate money to charities is to examine, as a good Foolish investor should, what kind of return you can expect to receive for each dollar you contribute. For example, here's what another charity we supported in 2000 (and other years), Grameen Foundation USA, could do with $100,000: They could offer loans for small businesses to 1,750 borrowers. According to a study, within 4.2 years, some 70% of those borrowers would have lifted themselves out of poverty. That's more than 1,200 people (and their families). Better still, Grameen loans are just that -- loans. They get repaid, and the money is loaned out again, helping more people. As you can see, every dollar you give goes a long, long way.

Then there's FirstBook, which we supported last year. They've already given away more than 30 million books to underprivileged children. If you're reading this article right now, chances are you're a reader and treasure many books. That love of books and reading started somewhere -- FirstBook is helping light such a spark for many children. Thanks to the deals they've negotiated and their efficiency, each dollar you contribute lets them give $11 worth of books to needy children. That's a very high return on equity, don't you think? What a great investment!

So which charities are we supporting and introducing you to this year? Well, it remains to be seen. We've just launched phase 1 of our drive - the call for nominations, which ends Nov. 6. It's OK if the charities you nominate are small. The big blue chips such as the Red Cross do great work, but plenty of people know about them already. We're eager to hear about all kinds of charities, big and small.

Learn more about our drive, join in, and let's see how much good we can do this year!

Blackboard and Drew Industries are Motley Fool Hidden Gems picks. Blue Nile is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Blue Nile and NetEase are Motley Fool Rule Breakers picks.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.